While much is made of the dynamic duos Kobe Bryant made with Shaquille O’Neal and later Pau Gasol, no one but Derek Fisher can lay claim to being Bryant’s teammates for each of his five NBA titles won with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Bryant and Fisher entered the league on opposite ends of the spectrum, albeit in the same 1996 Draft. Bryant was a lottery pick of the Charlotte Hornets and highly sought after by then-Lakers general manager Jerry West.
Fisher was also taken in the first round, but 24th overall out of the unheralded University of Arkansas at Little Rock. A mutual respect developed between the two through competition, and they went on to become close friends.
With the Lakers days away from retiring Bryant’s Nos. 8 and 24 jerseys at Staples Center, it’s reignited debate on which number best represents the beloved ‘Black Mamba.’
Few are more authorized to speak on such a matter than Fisher, who explained on
The Full 48 podcast hosted by Howard Beck that the Lakers made the correct decision to hang numbers both in the rafters, but he would have selected No. 24 if forced to choose one:
“I could see why they chose to do both, because I do think it would be hard to pick just one. My thoughts, honestly, have always been, ‘Why would you put a guy who’s going to play for the Lakers in the future possibly in a position where he has to wear one of those numbers if you don’t retire both?’ Imagine that young guy trying to come and play for the Lakers, and he’s having to wear No. 8 or No. 24, just because they didn’t retire both. That would not be a good thing. So, I think it was the safest to do both. My vote would probably be 24. I think that 24 still equals eight, because you’ve got the two times four kind of thing. But I think Kobe is the balance between himself as a player, who he is as a man, how to win championships as the focal point of a team. Twenty-four is possible because of eight, so I feel like 24 was the complete, comprehensive, total package. Eight was like the young, brash, he didn’t understand a lot maybe and he was just going out there and killing it just on what he knew. But 24 was the guy we came to love and still appreciate.”
Fisher’s choosing of No. 24 falls in line with what Bryant also said he would select. His reasoning was very matter of factly that it was the final number he wore as a player.
Further stoking the fire of debate is Bryant played 10 seasons in each number, winning three championships as No. 8 and two titles as No. 24.
He averaged 23.9 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.5 assists from 1996-2006, or his 10 seasons while donning No. 8. In the ensuing 10 years as No. 24, Bryant averaged 26.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.9 assists. His lone MVP and two Finals MVP Awards came as No. 24.
Bryant will become the 10th player to have his jersey retired by the Lakers, but of course the first to do so with two numbers. A jersey with a microphone hangs in honor of Chick Hearn, who’s the only non-player in the franchise’s history to be alongside the retired jerseys.
WANT TO PARTICIPATE IN THE DISCUSSION? CHECK OUT THE NEW LAKERS NATION FORUM CLUB